With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council becomes one of the European Union institutions. Comprising the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, it meets at least four times a year and includes the President of the European Commission as a full member. It elects its President for a period of two and a half years.
The role of the European Council is to provide the European Union with the necessary impetus for its development and to define the general political guidelines (Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union - TEU). It does not exercise any legislative function. However, the Treaty of Lisbon provides the option for the European Council to be consulted on criminal matters (Articles 82 and 83 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) or on social security matters (Article 48 of the TFEU) in cases where a State opposes a legislative proposal in these areas.
Decisions are taken following negotiations between Member States during European summits. The outcomes of European Council proceedings are recorded in conclusions published after each meeting. An extraordinary meeting can be held whenever necessary.
The European Council was set up by the communiqué issued at the close of the December 1974 Paris Summit and first met in 1975. Before that time, from 1961 to 1974, the practice had been to hold European summit conferences. Under the terms of a declaration attached to the Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference preparatory to the Treaty of Nice, all meetings of the European Council have been held in Brussels since the Union attained a membership of 25 (May 2004).